Tottenham and Liverpool will lock horns on Saturday night in an all-English UEFA Champions League final at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium.
So, here it is. The 2018-19 season is set to come to an end with the UEFA Champions League final. This week has been an all-English affair, with Chelsea beating Arsenal in the Europa League final. The spotlight will now shine on Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, who will go head-to-head on Saturday at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium.
Tottenham will be hoping to become the 23rd different side to win the European Cup/Champions League. But, their path to the final has not been easy, having first been drawn with Barcelona, Inter Milan and PSV in the group stage, wherein they were runners-up in their group behind Barcelona.
Their journey in the knockout stages started smoothly, as they eased past Borussia Dortmund 4-0 on aggregate. In the quarter-finals, Tottenham were stretched to their limits before they prevailed over Manchester City on the away goals rule. Finally, Mauricio Pochettino’s men completed a stunning comeback to beat Ajax on away goals rule after the tie ended in 3-3 on aggregate.
Liverpool too, have had their fair share of travails in their bid to win their sixth European Cup. The Reds first had to negotiate a group that also had PSG and Napoli. Jurgen Klopp’s men were not troubled too much in either the Round of 16 or the quarter-finals, wherein they got past Bayern Munich and FC Porto, respectively.
Like Tottenham though, Liverpool produced their own stirring comeback tale, coming back from three goals down to hand a 4-0 thrashing to Barcelona at Anfield. They now face a team they have already beat twice this season, with an identical scoreline of 2-1. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the UEFA Champions League final.
Team News & Tactics
Mauricio Pochettino does not have any major concerns to deal with ahead of the UEFA Champions League final against Liverpool. But, the Tottenham Hotspur boss is sweating over the fitness of Harry Kane.
The England captain’s has been a season marred by ankle injuries and has been out since mid-April with a ligament injury. But, having joined the group for first-team training last week, Kane has been building his fitness up, with Pochettino indicating that he is progressing quite well.
While the decision over his involvement is likely to be left till Saturday itself, his importance to the side means Kane ought to return to the starting lineup to face Liverpool. The English striker’s return means a subtle shift in the style of play, with Son Heung-min and the hat-trick hero against Ajax, Lucas Moura manning the wide areas.
The two wingers though, will be expected to overload the half spaces behind Kane, with Dele Alli also exploiting such areas. Christian Eriksen should thus, be deployed in a slightly withdrawn role, from where he will look to pull the strings while also having more defensive responsibilities.
Moussa Sissoko ought to line up alongside him in the middle of the park, with the Frenchman being the workhorse of the Tottenham side. Part of the attacking impetus will also be provided by the full-backs, Kieran Trippier and Danny Rose, who will aim to exploit the spaces left vacant by their marauding counterparts.
Trippier though, ought to perform better on the defensive front than he did against Ajax and generally has been over the course of the season, especially with both Andrew Robertson and Sadio Mane set to provide the threat on his side.
The two centre-backs, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen will look to help out the full-backs on their side, with the threat of Mane and Mohamed Salah lurking. The two Liverpool wide men will be aiming to overload the central areas left vacant by Roberto Firmino, should he start.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Trippier, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Rose; Sissoko, Eriksen; Lucas, Alli, Son; Kane
A Kane-like situation is also prevalent at Liverpool, with Roberto Firmino working hard to shrug off a groin injury that has affected the final month of the season for him. Like Kane though, Firmino is expected to be fit enough to return to the starting lineup, reprising his false nine role.
In case Firmino is not match fit, Divock Origi, one of the heroes and the tie clincher for Liverpool against Barcelona, will start once again. Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah will be Firmino’s partners in the final third, with the duo looking to constantly veer infield.
The only confirmed absentee for Liverpool comes from the midfield department, with Naby Keita out with a thigh injury that will sideline him till the pre-season. The three spots will thus, be contested by Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and James Milner.
Fabinho is an absolute certainty to start in a role he has made his own, screening the defence while keeping an eye on Dele Alli. Jordan Henderson has been a revelation since being deployed in a more advanced role than usual and he will reprise it once again.
Wijnaldum too, is nailed on after a series of impressive performances this season, meaning Milner misses out. At the back, there are unlikely to be any changes, with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson picking themselves as the two full-backs.
At the heart of the Liverpool defence, Virgil van Dijk will be the leader looking to keep the backline organised and disciplined against the threat of Kane & co. His partner should once again be Joel Matip, who has been fantastic over the last few months. Alisson will be a key presence in goal.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino, Mane
- There have been six previous UEFA Champions League finals between clubs from the same country, all since 2000. Of these, the only previous all-English final took place at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium in 2008, with Manchester United beating Chelsea 6-5 on penalties after a 1-1 draw.
- Tottenham have never won in Spain, where their overall record is D3 L3. Their last visit to the country ended in a 1-1 draw with Barcelona. For Liverpool, on the other hand, the Barcelona defeat in the first leg of their semi-final means the Reds have lost on four of their last five trips to Spain, where their record overall is W7 D5 L6.
- This is only the second time that Tottenham and Liverpool have been paired together in UEFA competition. The only previous instance saw Liverpool prevail on away goals in the 1972-73 UEFA Cup semi-finals after a 2-2 aggregate draw.
- Liverpool have lost just one of the teams’ last 14 meetings dating back to the start of 2013, winning nine (D4).
- Tottenham could become the sixth club – after Juventus, Ajax, Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Manchester United – to win all three major UEFA club trophies (European Cup/Champions League, Cup Winners’ Cup, UEFA Cup/Europa League).
- After scoring Liverpool’s goal against Real Madrid in Kyiv last year, Sadio Mane could become the eighth player – and the first from Liverpool – to score in more than one UEFA Champions League final, after Gareth Bale, Samuel Eto’o, Lionel Messi, Sergio Ramos, Raul Gonzalez, Mario Mandzukic and Cristiano Ronaldo, who is the only player to find the net in three.
Player to Watch
It has been a tough season for Harry Kane, who has dealt with multiple ankle injuries that have forced him to miss large parts of Tottenham’s campaign. But, he is expected to start what will perhaps, be the biggest game in Spurs’ history.
In Europe, the North Londoners have done quite well despite Kane’s absence, which should only fill Mauricio Pochettino with confidence ahead of the star striker’s much anticipated return. He now has the chance to end a frustrating season on a high, and if there is someone who can be banked on to rise to the occasion, it is Harry Kane.
Tottenham Hotspur 2-3 Liverpool
A long and exhausting season finally comes to an end on Saturday, with the pinnacle of European football. After an English UEFA Europa League final, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool will lock horns in another such final, albeit in the premier competition, the UEFA Champions League.
With both sides likely to be at full strength, bar the odd absentee, Mauricio Pochettino and Jurgen Klopp will hope to execute their plans effectively. And, if that turns out to be the case, one can expect the Champions League final to be the most open game of the three contests between Spurs and Liverpool this season.
The return of Harry Kane bodes well for Tottenham, while Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino will be the big names returning for Liverpool. And, with the players all looking for their first UEFA Champions League win, expect an end to end affair in the Spanish capital.
In the end though, it might boil down to a solitary goal and The Hard Tackle predicts Liverpool to get the odd goal in five on the night to win the competition for the sixth time. For Tottenham, it will end up being a case of so near yet so far.